Completed Scotland: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 19th C, Dress and Textiles 18 Is this portrait of a marriage a retrospective or a copy?

Marriage Portrait of Colonel James Stewart to Wilhelmina Kerr, 1803
Topic: Other

Could anyone provide any information on whether this painting is a retrospective or a copy? It was painted in 1849, some years after the event in 1803.

Completed, Outcome

Alice Read,

This discussion has now been closed. No conclusion was reached. If any contributors have new information about this painting, we encourage them to propose a new discussion by following the Art Detective link on the Your Paintings page: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/marriage-portrait-of-lieutenant-colonel-james-stewart-to-128431

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.

17 comments

Martin Kemp,

I wonder if the arched top reflects the influence of early photography? Presumably it's a copy.
Martin Kemp

Al Brown,

A document on this site records that they were married in 1802 - http://calms.abdn.ac.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqServer=Calms&dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqCmd=show.tcl&dsqSearch;=(RefNo=='MS 2308/7/4') - and a memorial stone at Sweetheart Abbey records that Williamina died giving birth to their only child, also called Williamina, who was born in 1804 according to several ancestry sites.

The castle in the background looks like Edinburgh so the original would certainly have commemorated their marriage in the Scottish capital

Many thanks, Al. This is useful information. It's sad that we know so little about Williamina - being a military museum, it's her husband who has the biography. We shall redress this!

Another dating issue is her dress: I believe the fashion in the early 1800s was for high waisted (a la Jane Austen). If so, perhaps this means it is a retrospective, drawing on the fashions of the time (the 1840s) rather than the fashions of the period of their marriage.

Al Brown,

Williamina's dress certainly looks more early-Victorian than Regency: and, if that's correct, it is not based on an earlier work but, as suggested, a "retrospective" work. The overall sentimental tone would seem to support this.

Does the provenance support a commission by a member of the family in 1849? Indeed, can the identities of the sitters be confirmed?

BTW is not the kilt rather short?

The kilt has, perhaps, been styled a little short by the artist! But the correct length to wear a kilt is so that when you kneel the kilt is about one inch off the ground - much shorter than in the modern fashion.

Thanks for your thoughts re it being a retrospective - we tend to agree. Unfortunately we have no provenance! Until very recently our fine art collection was collected because of what it depicted, and little thought was given to who painted it, when or why. This is something we are keen to redress.

Re identity of the sitters, Stewart of Shambelly was a well thought of man and soldier, so we have to assume that the label on the painting is correct and this fine portrait is him and not some other couple.

Al Brown,

I had wondered why a memorial picture would be painted in 1859 but it seems that their daughter Williamina Helen Forbes-Leith nee Stewart - known as Lilias. married for a second time in that year. This site refers to a photograph: http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?gl=ROOT_CATEGORY&rank=1&new=1&so=3&MSAV=1&msT=1&gss=ms_r_f-2_s&gsfn=Williamina&gsln=Forbes&msbdy;=&msbpn;__ftp=&msddy=1870&msdpn;__ftp=&cpxt=0&catBucket=p&uidh=000&cp=0. This site gives more history but varies the date of birth of her first husband, Colonel James John Forbes-Leith (most sites give 1780): http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/DUMFRIES-GALLOWAY/2004-05/1084022003.

She seems to have been very attached to her family and wrote poems about them: http://www.worldcat.org/search?q=au:Forbes+Leith,+Williamina+Helen+(Stewart).&qt=hot_author. So it wouldn't be surprising if a work like this was commissioned.

Alice Read,

Would you like me to amend the date in the painting description regarding the marriage to 1802?

Also to change the painting description to say it is possibly a copy after an earlier photograph?

Alice,
Re the marriage: certainly.
Re the mention of early photography, I think not: Williamina died before even early photograph was common.

Alice Read,

Shall we just add (copy) in the additional title information?

Al Brown,

Without further information on the purported model, it must be assumed that this work is in fact the original - perhaps supported by the dating of the dress to the mid-Victorian period and the overall, sentimental tone.

Martin Hopkinson,

It does not seem to be of the right quality to be by James Giles, unless it is a very early work by him

I think the "Artist(s)' line on Your Paintings needs some qualification as I agree with Martin that the quality of execution does not seem to be of the right standard for James Giles. See for example this portrait of Archibald Simpson said to date from 1848 (assuming its attribution is correct, of course). The Collection notes that the double portrait is 'dated 1846-1849'. Is that based on an actual inscription incorporating a signature? If so it would be helpful if the Collection could provide a detail photograph of it.

This thread is about to be closed because it hasn't been active for a few months. Thanks all for your input! Informative if not definitive.